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When we’re discussing landscaping rocks, one of the basic accents used are pebbles.

They’re an intermediary between gravel, and those large landscaping rocks you might see in a rock garden. Landscaping with rocks can add color and texture, or even be used as a background if you want some of your plants to stand out and pop.

Landscaping pebbles

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Mexican beach pebbles

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This is a great option for people who want to add a modern tone to their garden, as the dark tones look stunning with the shiny, smooth surface. This is a pretty unique combination of features. Going overboard isn’t hard at all since you can’t really go wrong with this kind of rock garden design.

You can use them as borders or frames between boring elements, or as a filler for small sectors between some light colored elements. You can even use them in tandem with water elements, that will get you that rocky beach feels right in your rock garden.

They’re a great thing to play with, their bold tone will undoubtedly make an impact, and their size makes them very versatile when you’re looking at rock garden ideas.

Pea gravel: things to (not) do

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This is a cheaper and more accessible alternative to beach stones. There are a lot of textures and colors available, and you can get a suitable alternative to beach stones even if you’re very picky.

Do surround your flat-rocks paths if you want to add textures. Alternate smooth, white, flat flagstone and jagged, dark, small gravel for a great effect.

Don’t fill up large areas of rock gardens with it, because it looks monotonous. Gravel is boring and uninspired when you’re covering large areas. It sure beats low-quality turf, but you can do better. This kind of materials become filler pretty easily.

Do clean up the gravel regularly. Due to the small size and weight it might jump out and spill into other landscape elements, so clean it for weeds and keep things tidy.

Don’t put it in dark corners of your garden which you rarely see, and never clean.

TIMELESS BEAUTY

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Rock garden designs are timeless. You’ll find they’re a stunning solution for plenty of ground coverings, and you also get a great metaphor between the seasonal fleeting plant life.

Mulch and other coverings need to be replaced often, and they need maintenance. Plus, you use that earthy background that sets a certain mood. A simple rock bed which is covered in pebbles gives you a heterogeneous tridimensional look that can’t be compared to any of the other options.

A great variety

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There are a lot of landscaping rock types, and no two are exactly alike, giving you a great palette to choose from. If you want ageless strength, go with large central rocks.

For a counterpoint to the “primordial” rock, go for smaller, rounded pebbles. It’s your garden, and your choice, so make sure to make it look stunning – there is no shortage of rock landscape ideas whatsoever.

Season-proof

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You should keep in mind how the seasonal behavior of your plants will affect your garden as the season’s change.

You should have both spring attention drawing plants, as well as a darker, moodier autumn scrubs, and all on a background of evergreen, and landscaping stones for a restrained winter garden that doesn’t constantly look like spring’s going to hit any minute.

Bold textures and high contrasts are an interesting option as far as rock landscape ideas go, as they help invigorate the winter stage, and the clean scenes and bold light colored frames will make the most of the rest of the seasons.

Stick to your garden’s theme

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For every landscape designer, there’s a right rock, and there’s a right designer for every rock. You just need to imagine things. A warm summer arid theme goes great with flat terracotta, like Arizona or New Mexico, but not for minimal, cool themes.

Sure, this might sound intimidating at first, but be patient. With time, you will experiment with different styles, and you’ll find that personal style that suits you well.

A minimalist, modern style is a good place to begin when you’re thinking about how to make a rock garden. The composition is simple, and there are plenty of examples on the Internet.

It’s pretty hard to overdo, honestly. The style is easily recognized by the refined and elegant dark sea stones and beach pebbles, as well as the minimalist scenes. If you’re after a timeless garden that feels fresh and stylish years from now, this is a great choice.

FUNCTIONAL DESIGN

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A function-oriented design is another way to go with it. This is how a lot of practical people start. For example, a rockscape can be a great foundation for a lot of pot plants.

All water that drains from the pots on the patio or deck drains easily, and there’s little to no mold or fungus, thus making sure your garden stays hygienic and clean. And, to add a bit of contrast, use textured, bright gravel, so you don’t overlook the effect.

Making a path for yourself

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This is a functional element, and you can either make it shine or make it the center point of your garden. A path will open up the garden to exploration without getting dirt on your shoes. Congratulations, the yard is now much more accessible, and you don’t have to ruin the natural feel with concrete.

Contrast is a popular interpretation of the garden path, but use texture as a contrast, and alternate between larger, foot-size stone tiles, and small pebbles. Make them similar in color, yet different in intensity. And, always opt for irregular shapes.

You’ll see why later on. When you’re going for larger tiles, make sure they’re a shade or two lighter than what surrounds them, so you get the contrast and separation of the surrounding, yet you get more visibility on the grain and texture of the tiles. But, you can always experiment.

Or, find an interesting, unique gravel, and make a path out of that. This way you get to enjoy the soft and silent crunch that just gives your garden a whole new dimension.

You can even alternate the gravel size or color for a break in the monotony. However, this will make a shocking visual effect, and you have to be careful not to overcrowd the scene with other random patterns or bold elements.

You can even alternate the gravel size or color for a break in the monotony. However, this will make a shocking visual effect, and you have to be careful not to overcrowd the scene with other random patterns or bold elements.

CONTRAST IN MODERATION

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Since we’re talking about crowded visuals, we’ve discussed contrast, and it’s one of the best design tools you actually have at your disposal. However, there is a point where it’s too much.

The visual impression that your work makes, like all messages, should be clear. When a visitor comes to your garden, they should do what you were going for.

Resonate modernism with smooth, shiny river stones that surround a central jagged rock, and sandy flat steps between the dense red gravel. You should give a clear picture that requires no explanations.

There should be one, and only one contrast to every scene and frame the eye takes in. When you have a small, crowded garden, have a few scenes, but make the ones you do have clear and obvious.

Some classic directions to help with the contrast: cold tones vs warm colors, smooth vs jagged, dense, dark green bushes vs limestone white walls. Dry vs water, small vs big, water vs fire elements (this is stunning if you manage to pull it off).

BACKYARD BEAUTY

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This is a more particular implementation thing about design that has to do with composition. Your eye will get bored fast when you have continuous surfaces, such as a lawn, or a scrub wall, or green corner.

The eye just glances over them, and if that happens one too many times, your garden will be perceived as boring or generic, and your brain will just move on to something else.

Add accents within, or around this kind of surfaces. They’ll keep the eye focused for an extra millisecond, and your visitors take in the full complexity of the frame and the details of the background.

Do this a few times as the viewer’s eyes move from one scene to the other, and you’ve already created an experience in their minds. Your garden is now a unique space with a theme, personality, and atmosphere. This is an experience one simply has to see, because words don’t do it justice anymore.

Landscaping the centrepiece

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With that said, you can’t just apply this on a macro level. The landscaping rocks shouldn’t be relegated to simply mood devices or good elements in the background, as these things can’t be used as a focal point for your landscaping.

Unlike living centerpieces, one eye-catching boulder, large and unique, gives your garden continuity across all season. And, it brings together larger spaces around that focal point. This is now an expansive garden that is unified by that one, central element.

Terracotta firepits

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A firepit is another stunning option for a centerpiece, and as a bonus, it’s functional as well. This will make your garden an intimate destination for the nighttime and gives your garden a whole different dimension. A firepit is something you can’t just ignore completely.

Frames and borders

Just like the unifying role a large centerpiece can offer at a macro level, you can also do a macro design with the clear, bold definition of certain scenes. This is where landscaping rocks are essential. They improve existing elements and set the theme and mood for the whole garden.

When you use the same type of granite accents all over the garden and add a water feature, you’ll turn your garden into a unified homage to the rocky ocean cliffs. For northern European cliffs, use dark tones, and gray if you want a French look. The Spanish, Mediterranean look goes with sandy tones.

And, it actually goes much further than that. Do you have a dark pond that looks meh with all that dark green foliage surrounding it? Put a border of light stones, this makes it defined within the environment and makes it pop.

Does your lawn look boring and uniform? Add stones in a random pattern, now your gaze moves in unpredictable and interesting ways. Use the same type of stones in both frames, and they’ll come together as a part of the same environment.

In this case, size isn’t important, but you need to make things interesting, almost shocking. Use a rugged, irregular shape, or strong colors if you want to achieve maximum impact. The brain should be reminded at all times that it’s one type of rock, and it’s one environment, that needs to be constant.

Leave the eye no choice but to travel the entire landscape in unpredictable ways, across all gardens, without making it feel like it’s a different type of environment it’s looking at. The stones should be interesting, so you know it’s a single environment, but not so much so that they overshadow the individual scenes.

A good spin to this is to reverse the elements when you can’t avoid a large area with the same elements. For example, on a long monotonous path across rocky backgrounds which are different, add bushy plants in pots every couple of feet. The plant life is now your unifying element.

COMPLEXITY, DEPTH, AND TEXTURE

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What makes the difference between gravel and sand, or a maze wall and a lush palm row, is texture. When creating a scene, most people just take into account color, but the texture is the other element of the complex image our eyes perceive.

This is why landscaping rocks are so powerful as far as design goes, and why they can make such a difference to your garden. There is no other element that infuses personality, mood, and emotion in space. Reacting to the rocky texture and feeling something is almost instinctive.

Also, there is plenty of diversity in texture, and you’ll never be bored. The only barrier to what you can achieve is creativity. Your creativity. Each rock is actually different, and there’s no such thing as perfect. Mix and match, and stop only when something pops out at you.

A good rule of thumb is to start with something bold, and just move things around in order for the scene not to become too crowded. Start out with granite walls, or maybe steps, or heavy ironstone centerpieces if you feel brave and bold.

Armour stone

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This is a massive stone that is amazing if you want to add visual complexity. It also creates a seamless change in height, as it gives the impression that transitions are just carved out of a primeval clift. This is great for stone steps that are actually a feature of the environment, and not man’s will.

The crusty texture gives you great contrast, especially when integrating pools. There’s something flat about how most water features look and feel.

This may sometimes be good if that’s the look you’re going for, but most people aren’t. That rugged landscaping rock is a great intermediary between the hedge’s natural feel and the pool’s man-made feel.

SCENE AND COMPOSITION

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The scene is something you’ve heard often, and it’s a mental picture that anyone who passes through your garden will get to see at some point. Everything comes back to eye movement, and this is how designers think. This is basically the technical translation of “this looks good”.

Yes, it looks good because someone made you feel like that look is good. This might be a bit too much, but don’t worry, as the basic rule is that YOU like it. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you shouldn’t.

Experiment, do it in stages and grow. This guide will be here in 2, or 6, or 30 months, and you can go back to it for it to inspire you.

Let’s get back to the point. Beyond individual scenes, you should also consider the overview of the garden. What does your viewer see when they step out and take it as one whole thing.

Consider where the eye goes, each and every moment. What is the main event? What’s that one thing that you can’t wait to show off? Your friend or guest should feel drawn into it, and you shouldn’t be the one pointing them to it.

For example, on a dark green background, go with large yellow or red flowers. However, use strong, powerful tones in the landscaping stones, and you’re spoiling the scene.

So, a pale row of white, or gray rocks, suits this scene best. You don’t have to add another level of contrast but instead, go for a toned down color that won’t draw away from the main attraction.

Another way to guide your people is with paths. However, making them too obvious, or too straight, makes them boring. Instead of forcing focus, it keeps the eye in overlook mode.

Use angular paths with large elements that don’t yell out for attention, but instead firmly demand it. Symmetry is in some way the antithesis of contrast, however, it’s a double-edged sword. It is, on one hand, pleasant, calming and orderly, but predictable, forgettable and monotonous on the other. And you need both, obviously.

A good exception to this rule is when you’re talking about stones. If you have square stones, they’re predictable and boring, A nice spin on that rule is to alternate them in diagonals. This makes for a scene that is very interesting, and you seldom see in most gardens.

Rock walls

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This is one of the best accents to use, as it adds tridimensionality while still setting the mood, theme, and feel of your garden. The bold, rocky wall will always draw people, but once that’s done, it’s just another wall. That former bold element is now the background for your vine.

They’re also very practical because a short, thick wall can substitute patio furniture. It almost forces an unconventional yet relaxed hangout. Add a fire pit to the combination, and you’ve got a unique gathering point.

And, when you want to take it to the next level, walls will become an even more unique type of accent. Remember that thing about borders and unifying rocks? Rock walls can do the same thing while adding layers to your scenes.

Walls can be used as plant beds if you want to get those shorter plants to eye level. Provide a dry, lifeless background to the other plants’ foliage. And, use the same textured rocks to integrate everything into the same garden where you put your firepit and wall patio.

This is, honestly, a very bold design element. And you need to create stages. Maybe a border to thin, short flowers and first, something understated that helps you move up from that. You’ll be fascinated by the fact that even after a few replacements of the flower bed, it’s still your favorite design element.

IMMERSIVE LANDSCAPES

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Immersive designs bring together the concept of functional design and the concept of eye-grabbing design. When we discussed paths earlier, we touched on the concept. Paths are a great example of taking advantage of a function when moving towards an aesthetic goal – getting viewers close to the scene.

A closer look at the scene reveals colors, texture and mild accents, which makes everything more tasteful and restrained while adding depth to the overall experience.

This works wonders with reformed driveways or small gardens because those space constraints mean that your viewer is already halfway into the scene. A dual-zone area in the driveway is a great application.

Half of the driveway can be paved with bright, bold flagstones, and the other half with hyperrealistic lush greenery. Layering the plant life in both width and height will give you a surreal, immersive experience. To make it unforgettable and engaging, add color accents with bright flowers.

The “wild gravel path” is another example that works best in arid themed gardens. Use a textured gravel to make a diagonal, curved path through the garden.

This gives each step a natural crunch. Surround it with a low brush which has long, radial foliage, enough to tickle the ankles. Layer bold, light flowers horizontally to alternate the brushes.

If a cooler theme is your thing, add flagstones on a moss path to keep the main element of a “natural” path. They should wildly vary in size and shape, and the path should be bordered with thicker moss.

You can even add flower beds with short, spring flowering bulbs, on short, rocky stones with a dark tone. The closeness between the rock faces and the visitor will give you the scene. It’s an amazing example of reversal, where you have a green background, and it’s the landscaping stones that bring the scene to life.

YARD THEMES

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Last but not least, this is where you should start. By now you’re undoubtedly bursting with ideas, and want to experiment with just about anything. But, wait a minute.

The difference between an amateur and a world-class landscaper is in the restraint. And the theme is the guideline that tells you how much is too much. Apart from some special cases, like a minimalist Zen garden, most themes are a great balance between backgrounds, highlights, and accents.

Sticking to the guidelines for a certain theme helps you prevent overkill, and putting too many attention-grabbing things in your garden, as well as having a bland garden with not much happening. Mediterranean-themed, large landscape rocks work great with the short brush of Mediterranean plants.

Rugged brick walls are stunning for a Victorian industrial look. A Continental grass will work wonders on small river rocks. The options are endless. Pick one that fits the climate you live in, and work from there. Add elements that can adapt to that style, and feel free to play with things that aren’t a hard rule.

Framing it with a rock

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Creative use of rock makes a lot of difference with separating ordinary landscapes into great ones. The beauty of the plants you’re growing can be further brought out by artful use of hardscape, and the use, both practical and decorative, of rocks, can raise your property’s value. You do put a lot of care into your plants, and you’re right.

But the non-living features shouldn’t be forgotten either. Your plants might be the focus, but hardscape is the frame and structure provider.

A boulder at the driveway entrance is enough for many homeowners, but the only thing limiting your possibilities is the time you’ll spend on your hardscape or the budget you’ll give to professionals that’ll do it for you.

Use rock in a patio construction

For some hardscape things, bringing your rocks together with mortar is a necessity. For others, brick, tile or concrete will work better than rock. These are choices that you must weigh carefully before you take on one extremely popular hardscape project – building your patio.

Regardless of whether it’s made of stone, concrete or any other material, it’s a great way to tie the indoors and the outdoors. An extended patio is a great alternative to a lawn – it takes up space where you’d otherwise plant lawn grass. This cuts down on watering needs and lowers maintenance.

Anchor planting beds with boulders

Get an effective design by dominating a small lawn with a planting bed. The bed has a lot of impact due to the boulders used to anchor it.

You can use rock throughout the rest of the property, and the boulders will tie that planting bed with the rest of the scene. There are a lot of ideas for using hardscape elements, such as rocks or bricks, and here are a few.

  • Patios
  • Landscape steps
  • Fountains in water features
  • Paths
  • Accent pieces for a water garden
  • Stone walls
  • Rock gardens

Building a stone wall

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This is a subject that, in itself, comes with a wide-ranging scope. There are quite a few variations such as:

  • Those that will line your driveway’s sides
  • Those that run along the street, thus setting it off from your lawn
  • Those that mark your property’s line
  • Those that will enclose a flower bed or vegetable garden
  • Stone-retaining walls that either prevent erosion or terrace a hillside before planting

However, the above ideas can only hint at the choices and challenges you might face with a stone wall. Using, or not using, mortar to hold the rocks in place is one of the most obvious first decisions. With round rocks, that aren’t very stable, you need mortar to keep them from moving.

Shape and size as factors

The shape and size of the stone are central to getting that feel and look you desire, and your rocks should be chosen carefully. When you build the landscape steps with flat, large rocks, they’ll guarantee safety. Instability is the last thing you want in a landscape – even the mere suggestion of it is off-putting.

However, rocks in a landscape design shouldn’t be overused, regardless of how stable they are. To soften their look, use plenty of plants – rocks can be harsh if there are no plants in sight.

Factors to consider for retaining walls

Just like with landscape steps, you should be careful with your choice of material. Large, flat rocks are appropriate as they give a sense of stability. A retaining wall is a, first and foremost, a practical thing, as it prevents erosion by retaining the soil behind it.

However, if you’re making a rock fountain, use small, round rocks for a cuter look. Since this is a decorative feature, in this situation it’s all right.

When building such a wall, there are plenty of factors to consider. If the wall doesn’t have any tricky angles, you may take it on as a DIY project. However, if it’s large and complex, you should leave it to professionals.

Natural stone isn’t the only choice of material here. If someone loves a natural look, someone may not like the blocks that are used for the retaining walls. However, these blocks are:

  • Easy to transport
  • Cheap to buy and install
  • Easy to find (look for them in home improvement centers)
  • Easy to work with (both for professional jobs and DIY projects)

Therefore, even though they may lack a natural rock’s impact, they’re very popular with homeowners.

Water and rocks: the perfect marriage

Combining these two in a landscape gives you something special. Maybe that is why Japanese gardens are a thing with Westerners – they commonly combine these two elements. One way to try things out is a fountain made of stone – this is a perfect example.

You don’t need to have a large fountain if you want to create an impact – all depends on the size of the space. On a small property, simple rock fountains can have quite an impact.

Besides building rock fountains, there are other ways to unite these two elements. Water gardens give your garden a stunning look with their combination of water and plants. However, to add variety, add more rocks to the scene. And, such water features don’t have to be large either.

A path to landscaping beauty

A stone walkway can go from stunning, too monotonous if you aren’t careful. The material has a lot to do with this, such as a cobblestone walkway. The material is stunning, but also uniform. To break up the monotony, plant a small ground cover between the cobblestones, in the cracks. Short plants that can do this for you are:

  • Creeping thyme
  • Moss
  • Miniclover white clover

Flagstone, by contrast, has a lot of variety. The stones are in different colors and irregular in shapes. You don’t need to install plant material in the cracks here.

You should also vary the size of your rocks. Naturally, you want them all to be in different sizes. And the holes you leave between them, for plants, should also be in different sizes – some tiny, some large. Ask your local nursery for advice on what is the best place to get landscaping stones.

Choosing the right location is also important. Do you have a hill? No? Then make one, using rocks and soil. To give your hill some height, use larger stones – this kind of hill is known as a berm.

Map things out

Use a pencil and paper to draw out how you want to place your stones. This saves you a lot of extra work when you’re placing the rocks. You should try to mimic nature with the arrangements – a random grouping will look much more natural than a straight row.

Pick the right plants

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The best plants are usually small, drought-tolerant, and commonly alpine in origin. They need good drainage, especially if your living place gets a lot of rainfall yearly. When it comes to the rock garden plants, think tiny – smaller bulbs, such as daffodils, wild tulips or blue-eyed grass are a nice choice.

You can even use creeping plants, they’ll soften the rocks’ hard edges, as well as blend the plantings over time. You can use mosses, sedums, mints, ice plants, or short grasses such as blue fescue. Succulents are also a classic choice, and they’re fun to tuck in the most unlikely spots. And, they’re good with most climates.

Use soil in a correct way

The soil is mentioned last, but it’s surely the most important part of creating a healthy garden. Combine small rocks, a layer of sand, and a layer of lean topsoil before planting.

The topsoil should also have some small lava rock and peat mixed in. Using a nutrient-rich soil has a lot of compost, and this is a mistake because a rock garden plant likes it lean and mean. Using rich soil will cause the plants to look unhappy.

Ending thoughts on landscaping rocks

A rock garden is undoubtedly one of the most creative and fun shapes of gardening. On your first attempt, don’t go too big. A giant hillside might be a bit overwhelming, for example. Treat your new garden like a painted jewel box egg, and not an out-of-control flowerbed if you want to enjoy yourself, and stay with a cool head.